Donald Trump’s border wall was sidelined by Congress as lawmakers reached the first major bipartisan deal since the president’s inauguration, agreeing to a measure that aims to keep the US government funded until the end of September.
Lawmakers are set to vote on a $1tn spending agreement this week that includes extra money for defence and $1.5bn on border security but does not allocate new money to the president’s signature campaign issue.
The agreement reduces the risk to Republicans of presiding over a damaging shutdown of the federal government this month, while leaving Mr Trump’s plans for a new southern wall with Mexico to be fought out in future spending negotiations.
Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute said that it would have been self-defeating for Republicans to refuse to extend government funding given their desire to focus on healthcare and tax reforms. That meant keeping Democrats on board by pushing off the issue of the border wall despite the president’s earlier requests.
“I thought for sure he [Mr Trump] would have to do something major on Nafta. I thought for sure he would have to label China a currency manipulator. And I thought for sure he was going to have to build a border wall,” Mr Strain said. “They are being a lot more flexible on some of these bright, shiny objects that they used in the campaign.”
The bipartisan agreement included money for Democratic priorities including funding for the National Institutes of Health — in contrast to Mr Trump’s budget demands. Rodney Frelinghuysen, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the legislation will “fund critical federal government activities, including our national defence, and enact responsible funding decisions to target US investments where they are needed the most.”
The agreement means the US is likely to avoid a repetition of 2013, when a 16-day shutdown led to federal employees being put on unpaid leave for the equivalent of 6.6m days between them.
However, Stephen Myrow, a former George W Bush administration official now at Beacon Policy Advisors, said the budget deal did not signal a breakthrough in congressional dynamics. “There’s no turning point here. They didn’t have a choice,” he said. “Everyone spends their time decrying the lack of bipartisanship, but there’s nothing indicating any chance of bipartisanship in the foreseeable future.”
When it comes to voting the agreement is likely to face opposition from some conservative Republicans, underlining the continued challenges the GOP faces in pushing legislation through without Democratic support.
Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, told CNN that “a lot of conservatives” were likely to oppose the budget plan. This was because it contained money for Planned Parenthood, a healthcare service which offers abortions, and so-called sanctuary cities, which do not detain undocumented immigrants, while omitting any money for the border wall.
The White House is setting up another make-or-break moment in a matter of days by predicting that Congress will vote on a revised healthcare bill before the end of this week. The failure of a first effort to overhaul Obamacare was a low point of Mr Trump’s first 100 days and the White House is seeking to erase the memory by pushing for a quick win.
Party leaders have been battling to bridge a divide between conservatives and moderate Republicans who disagree on how to balance healthcare costs and coverage. But it is not yet clear they have crafted a bill that could win wide enough support.
Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, said on Monday that he expected a successful vote this week. “I certainly hope so,” he told CBS. “I think it will happen this week.”
Mr Trump added more uncertainty into the process at the weekend by saying the bill would guarantee insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, even though congressional leaders were working on giving states an opt out.
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